Advanced Curriculum Workshops: Macroediting and Microediting

By on June 8, 2006

AMWA Mid-Atlantic’s 2006 Core Curriculum Conference Reports

Instructor: (Ms.) R. Elliott Churchill, MS, MA

Reported by Michael S. Altus, PhD, ELS

(Note: Advanced curriculum workshops require participants to have completed core workshops or to have experience.)


According to the pre-workshop assignment, that fixed ritual of AMWA workshops, macroediting “is defined as the correction or verification of overall structure and content, at the level of the paragraph or above [emphasis in original]….” The primary task in the assignment was to take up to six hours of “onerous” (Ms. Churchill’s word, not mine) macroediting of a majorly messed-up manuscript. [Query to author: “ ‘majorly’ is not correct usage. Is ‘an extensively disorganized manuscript’ as meant.” Reply to editor: “That’s not macroediting. It’s microediting.”]

Ms. Churchill explained that a manuscript’s introduction, methods, and results are based on objective, measured material, whereas the discussion is subjective in offering the author’s opinions. A detailed, but concise, handout elaborated on what goes into manuscript sections. Ms. Churchill urged authors to prepare a one-sentence SOCO single overriding communications objective that conveys the key message. In writing the SOCO and in preparing a manuscript, Ms. Churchill stressed the importance of identifying and remembering the target audience. To conclude the workshop, participants took turns discussing how they macroedited different sections of the pre-workshop manuscript. Ms. Churchill noted that she estimated that it would have taken 60 hours to thoroughly edit the manuscript. This provided reassurance that thorough editing takes time.

This “onerous” but otherwise excellent workshop succeeded in clarifying for me a distinction that heretofore I’ve had difficulty understanding: the objectivity appropriate for a results section (“This was bigger than that.”) and the subjectivity appropriate for the discussion (“We found that this was bigger than that. It means that this is better than that.”) I highly recommend taking this workshop to others whose work includes manuscript editing.


According to the pre-workshop assignment, microediting “is defined as the correction or verification of details, at the sentence level or below….” As with macroediting, the primary task in the assignment was to take up to six hours of “onerous” microediting of a majorly messed-up manuscript. [Query to author: “ ‘majorly’ is not correct usage. Is ‘an extensively disorganized manuscript’ as meant.” Reply to editor: “Thank you. Revise as you see fit.”]

In most of our work, Ms. Churchill explained, we use “functional” language to convey new information or to convey old information in a new context. Imaginative language (“a few sad last gray hairs”) might be powerful, but we cannot rely on it for what we do. Unlike imaginative language, which is directed to the “heart” or “gut”, functional language is directed to the intellect, requiring two intellectual processes, association and memorization. The writer can use various devices, such as judicious repetition, to make information easier to memorize.

Ms. Churchill continued by urging clarity, such as the use of simple words instead of complicated and long-winded ones. She readily agrees that “sickness and death” are preferable to “morbidity and mortality” — this from a longtime editor at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, whose premier journal is Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWR).

It can take a sales job to persuade authors to accept microediting changes, and Ms. Churchill tried to explain how. Given that MMWR has not changed its name to SDWR, much remains to be done. Ms. Churchill presented a list of troublesome words and phrases. She also treated participants to a list of justifications for the existence of editors, such as the following: “She had been splenectomized in 1965 because of a traumatic rapture.”

Although I did not experience “traumatic rapture” during this workshop, and although I would have preferred at least a cursory discussion of the pre-workshop assignment, I highly recommend that those whose work includes manuscript editing take this workshop.


Michael S. Altus, PhD, ELS, a Baltimore-based freelance medical writer and editor, has four AMWA core curriculum certificates and is enrolled in the advanced curriculum. He serves as AMWA Mid-Atlantic Chapter’s e-mail coordinator.

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